Atonix Digital had the pleasure to attend Western Energy Institute’s (WEI) Joint Use Conference in Austin in September. One of the highlights of our week was the informal user forum we were able to facilitate as part of the event’s innovative Power Table sessions. Under the Power Table concept, a sponsoring company or individual hosts a 50-minute presentation or discussion for up to 50 interested conference attendees.
Our session, “The Utility Pole Management Maturity Model,” yielded some very interesting discussion and ideas, the highlights which I’ll share in this blog post.
We welcomed about a dozen participants, including eight managers from electric power utilities. We also had a few non-pole owners who we’re glad were there to add color and perspective. At the session’s outset, we handed out a short list of discussion questions about various aspects of our guests’ pole management operations, and gave them a few minutes to jot down their notes. We noted that we would keep all responses confidential, our primary interest being fuel for conversation
We were not disappointed.
A Pole Management Microcosm
Our participants included a large telecom service provider, a tower infrastructure, and an engineering services firm, in addition to municipal, investor-owned, and cooperative electric power utilities. Among those who managed poles, inventories ranged from 7,000 to 2 million. A few managers there with us managed light poles as well, as many as 100,000 in one case. (Light poles are currently exempt from FCC joint-use regulations, though we picked up some rumblings in regulatory Power Table sessions that this might change in the near future.)
Regulated or not, utility pole owners face massive transformation in the 5G era. The high-bandwidth, short-distance nature of 5G microcells makes ubiquitous utility poles prime targets for service providers seeking to build out their networks along high-value corridors. The FCC has clearly embraced this, given the wireless infrastructure orders it passed, beginning with the November 2017 First Report and Order and continuing to the Declaratory Ruling and Third Report & Order nearly a year afterwards.
For so many utilities, the Third Report & Order has initiated a countdown for bringing pole management processes and systems – many which still rely on paper forms; spreadsheet files with inconsistent, often conflicting data; and email discussion threads – up to date.
Palpable Signs of Change
On our prompting, members of our group shared their estimates of growth in wireless attachment inquiries. While these estimates averaged just under 20 percent year-on-year growth, one member of the group spoke to a 30 percent increase in wireless attachment inquiries in the past year, and predicted a 100 percent increase over the next five years.
Another key finding: carrier buildout of 5G networks has already begun to impact pole management workloads. In our discussions, we detected signs of structural and procedural bottlenecks that stand to complicate process acceleration and even basic compliance. For one thing, several in our group indicated the use of two or more separate pole databases across the organization. This aligns closely with information shared that attachment applications can involve as many as four separate departments.
No surprise, then, that all but one participant answered “no” to the question of whether they could handle a large influx of applications.
Process Health and Pole Management Maturity
This said, we took heart in the confidence our participants placed in their management processes. Moreover, we came away confident that we were comparing notes with operations managers who can relate to the efficiencies and economies that come with state-of-the-art data consolidation and governance.
The integration of customizable workflow automation with real-time pole data operations lets organizations aggressively drive costs down and even re-engineer processes in response to changing regulations and market conditions.
Thanks for the Opportunity
Thanks to all who attended our WEI Joint Use Conference Power Table session in Austin. We look forward to sharing more experiences and insights from our travels.